Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on November 16, 2007
When I think “Old Hollywood”, I picture classic film stars, drive-in movies and vintage cars. So, it’s no wonder that LA designer Kim White is fitting a new era of Hollywood consumers with eclectic purses made from vintage car fabrics.
I first met Kim at the New Mart Building during LA Market Week — a five-day showroom event spanning several buildings in LA’s downtown fashion district where designers showcase their upcoming season’s lines for buyers and media. As I walked around the event, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of designers on every level, and overjoyed to see that LA Market Week was embracing fashion forward sustainability.
Kim White’s designs appeal to a consumer who appreciates the past, embraces the present, and knows how to make vintage the newest “it” accessory. Her customers range from trendy teens to Hollywood starlets.
Kim was always interested in fashion. Having spent most of her childhood in Orange County, California after moving from Iowa at a young age, she took sewing in school and found herself drawn to handbags, which she began making as a hobby and selling at neighborhood street fairs and to family friends while still a teenager. Placement in local shops at Belmont Shore and Long Beach soon followed. She never attended design school, opting instead to pursue a love of arts and a degree in art history.
After college, her job search led her to an internship working for established designer Carol Little, which solidified her career in fashion. The opportunity led to an eight-year position in which Kim eventually ran public relations for the designer. When the company’s doors finally closed, Kim decided to give her own line a shot.
For Kim, the biggest challenge was getting up to speed. She wasn’t formerly trained in design principles or the fashion business, but she knew her competition was. The challenge was to produce something sophisticated that could compete with what other designers were putting out there, but yet make something distinctively her own.
Ultimately, Kim’s love of vintage guided her. She heard through a friend about a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles that sold fabrics from vintage cars. Traditionally purchased by auto shops and dealers, these fabrics had been used to restore cars mainly from the ‘70s and ‘80s. But when people stopped updating these older cars, Kim says, “there became no market for these fabrics. Many of them sat for up to thirty years untouched and that was a huge opportunity for me to make great bags.” Seizing it, she bought out the remaining stock from several warehouses and now houses it in a private storage facility.
Kim began working from home, where she has designed for the past five years. She has three contactors in LA who produce her bags, which began with three styles — the tote, the small shoulder bag, and the large travel bag. Because Kim is the sole owner of these amazing automotive textiles and owns all remaining U.S. stock, your bag is not only vintage but truly unique. Kim uses dead stock (never-used) textiles intended for use in American automobiles, and each bag you purchase is tagged with the year and make of the fabric so you know exactly what car your bag was intended for.
Because these textiles were constructed for vehicle interiors, they are incredibly durable and built to last. In addition to the automotive textiles, Kim also began recycling vintage florals designed for 1950s-1970s furniture, and recently added a bag to her line made from unused American Airlines fabric.
Kim plans to expand her collection to include messenger tote bags for men and possibly baby bags for mothers. As for fashion trends, she tries not to follow them. Instead, she’ll continue to design for the future by looking to the past for inspiration. And as for being tagged a “green designer”, Kim says, “I was doing it before it was the trendy or hip thing to do. I’ve always loved vintage and reusing materials. It’s what makes my bags unique and is the foundation of my work.”
Kim’s favorite piece remains her signature item, the Camaro clutch, originally designed for the 1983 Camaro vehicle. But whichever Kim White accessory excites you the most, you can purchase your bag knowing it is truly “G” – stylish, affordable, made from high-quality vintage fabric that would otherwise have gone to waste and truly one of a kind.
Kim’s bags can be purchased online or from boutiques throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan.